Enterprise 2.0, SoA and the Freeform Advantage

    May 21, 2006

Andrew McAfee, who first mentioned the term Enterprise 2.0 to me on December 1st 2005, provides a definition:

Now, since I was the first to write extensively about Enterprise 2.0 I feel I’m entitled to define it:

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of freeform social software within companies.

‘Freeform’ in this case means that the software is most or all of the following:

  • Optional
  • Free of up-front workflow
  • Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities
  • Accepting of many types of data

‘Social’ means that there’s always a person on at least one end of the wire with Enterprise 2.0 technologies. With wikis, prediction markets, blogs, del.icio.us, and other Web 2.0 technologies with clear enterprise applications people are doing all the interacting and providing some or all of the content; the IT is just doing housekeeping and/or bookkeeping.

I’m in agreement, and find it easier to be than naming debates of the past (and reminiscent at my first stab at naming: “Social Software adapts to its environment, instead of requiring its environment to adapt to software“).

If there is debate, it will be on two fonts: the role of organizational identities (Egalitarian) or an emaphasis on technology over social dynamics. McAfee focuses on the second, that of Enterprise 2.0 vs. SoA:

Jeff Nolan insightfully points out that Web 2.0 is greatly aided by things like scripting and REST architectures, and I agree that Enterprise 2.0 applications are a lot easier to use if users can drag and drop and do other cool AJAX-enabled things from within the browser. But to me these components aren’t even enabling technologies, since Enterprise 2.0 could happen without them. They’re clearly accelerating technologies, but keep in mind that the first wiki was built in 1994 and put on the Web in 1995, well before the initial XML spec was submitted.

Programmers could build fully-functional wikis, blogs, tagging systems, and prediction markets by carving them out of solid COBOL and serving them through the first Netscape browser. They’d be clunky, but they’d work. And I bet they’d draw users, too, because they’d tap into our desire to use technology to interact with each other, and also tap into the good stuff that emerges when we do so. As I wrote earlier, I think of Web 2.0 as the era when technologists really woke up to this; Enterprise 2.0 will be the era when business leaders join them…

Claims about the power and benefits of SOA and its predecessors have been running ahead of reality for years. Claims about the power and benefits of freeform social software, on the other hand, mostly cropped up in the wake of real-world examples…

A second difference between SOA and Enterprise 2.0 (which I think is closely connected to the first one) is that a service oriented architecture has to be imposed up front, while an Enterprise 2.0 environment emerges over time…

The second front, that Enterprise 2.0 is Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities, not only flys in the face of enterprise culture and convention, but previously encoded political bargains. For example, a primary property of social software is easy group forming — but most enterprise systems expressly prevent it. To form a group, you not only need permission from IT, but complex configuration and in many cases even software development. Beyond applications, ever come across an LDAP implementation that supports easy group forming? This runs counter to the way many enterprises actually work today, where ad hoc cross-functional teams drive more than professional services organizations.

A second example is fine grained security. Content management, document management, portals and poorly designed wikis highlight per object/page permissioning. Certain expert users have the ability to control access and rights for a specific document. This harms productivity — when a user needs to access a document to perform a task and has to incur the overhead that can unlock it, plus the overhead of locking (structure upfront) and unlocking itself. This harms knowledge sharing — documents go undiscovered and are decidedly static, despite how the knowledge in the document is never finished. This harms competitive advantage — any system that exhibits inertia compromises a firm’s ability to adapt to it’s dynamic environment.

While .pdf is where knowledge goes to die, there are some documents that benefit from being static. But they are a fraction of the documents in a given enterprise. And with the discovery afforded by hypertext and tagging, documents have the potential to exist in a social context. Even a locked down document, if viewable, can be annotated through linked messages.

Imagine how useful Wikipedia would be if a handful of admins could lock down links to articles indefinately and without oversight, their ability to be discovered through Google, let alone edit them. Then imagine the same thing behind the firewall, where there is less risk (you can presume a greate innocence of users and know their identity). Utility is decidedly compromised.

This is why enterprise systems have low adoption rates, little user generated content, high quality metadata and email is used for everything. Every sacrifice made for sake of control reduces network effects, assumes a static environment you can design against and is designed by supposed experts outside the context of use. Contrary to the most disruptive pattern of social software — sharing control creates value.

UPDATE: Traditional KM Systems Compared To Print summarizes a post by Jeff Jarvis (The Book is Dead) in related terms:

1. Enterprise 2.0 defreezes knowledge.

2. Enterprise 2.0 enables knowledge churn & flow.

3. Conversations are central to Enterprise 2.0 and incidentally knowledge resides in conversations.

Add to | DiggThis | Yahoo! My Web


Ross Mayfield is CEO and co-founder of Socialtext, an emerging provider of Enterprise Social Software that dramatically increases group productivity and develops a group memory.

He also writes Ross Mayfield’s Weblog which focuses on markets, technology and musings.